‘Glorified shrine of the Confederacy’: UM students, faculty fume over unofficial plans to renovate Confederate cemetery

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What began as a day that felt victorious for everyone who wanted the Confederate monument relocated from its prominent position at the University of Mississippi quickly turned confusing and disappointing.

After the the Board of Trustees of the Institutions of Higher Learning voted on Thursday morning to relocate the Confederate monument at the University of Mississippi, a rendering of what appeared to be a plan for the relocated statue began circulating. The rendering depicts the monument in the center of a broad brick pathway on a manicured landscape surrounded by in-ground lighting that would presumably illuminate it.

University of Mississippi

This is an unofficial artist’s rendering of what the Confederate monument site could look like at the University of Mississippi once the monument is moved.

“There’s a bench in the picture. Are you going to sit down on the bench and look at it? That’s not education, that’s glorification,” said Josh Mannery, Associated Student Body president at UM. “I think that somehow if this ends up being true they managed to make the relocation worse.”

The university responded that the renderings being widely shared are not the official plans for the cemetery, but an idea of what the plan could be. 

“These are an artist’s renderings, and the plans have continued to evolve since the renderings were completed,” a university spokesman told Mississippi Today in a statement. “These renderings were used as supporting documentation in the university’s submission and in conversations between Chancellor (Glenn) Boyce and the (IHL board) to offer visuals of what the site could look like in accordance with state law, which allows a monument to be moved ‘to a more suitable location if it is determined that the location is more appropriate to displaying the monument.’”

A group of student activists worked for months to get the Confederate monument moved from the heart of campus to the on-campus cemetery. The cemetery, which holds unmarked graves where hundreds of Confederate soldiers are said to be buried, is located in a quiet corner of campus, tucked behind the old basketball arena and some parking lots.

University of Mississippi

This is an unofficial artist’s rendering of what the Confederate monument site could look like at the University of Mississippi once the monument is moved.

The monument’s relocation and cemetery upgrades are expected to cost $1.15 million, which will be privately funded, according to information shared with the IHL board this week.

“The university’s privately funded plan proposes relocation to the University Cemetery because a cemetery is sacred ground that serves as the final resting place of the fallen,” the university’s project proposal, submitted this week to the IHL board, stated. “For that reason, cemeteries have long been deemed appropriate places for war memorials … and the relocation of the monument immediately adjacent to the cemetery would place the monument in a broader and more proper historical context.”

As part of relocating the monument, the university will construct a well lit, brick path to the monument, which was placed on the campus by the Daughters of the Confederacy in 1906. A new marker will also be added to the cemetery to “recognize the men from Lafayette County who served in the Union Army as part of the United States Colored Troops during the Civil War,” the proposal states. Cameras will be installed around the cemetery to allow the University Police Department to monitor it.

The university’s clarification about the renderings this week did not assuage frustrations and concerns from students and faculty this week.

Anne Twitty, associate professor of history at UM, was a member of the committee that in part was tasked with creating plaques that contextualized vestiges of slavery and the Confederacy around campus.   

“Just the second you think that you finally achieved your goal, you find out that there’s now a new front in what seems like a never ending war,” Twitty said. “That’s very frustrating. And it’s like all this is happening because they weren’t transparent with us. They didn’t tell us what was going on. And they promised us that they would.”

Twitty has raised concerns about the lack of transparency around the relocation process and the plan for the relocation itself. Aside from the overall design which some feel exalts the Confederate monument, the plan also includes headstones to acknowledge the other Confederate soldiers buried there.

“This fantasy that you can go into this resting place and put up headstones when you don’t know exactly who was still there, and when you don’t know where they’re located on that plot — that strikes me as deeply offensive,” Twitty said. “I think what that rendering sort of suggests is a kind of Confederate-palooza that the university wants to establish in its back forty and it just means that they’re replacing one site for Lost Cause nostalgia, which is currently at the entrance to our campus, with another one.”

Students also felt misled, misrepresented and generally left out of the conversation about the rendering that was drawn up.

“I’m disappointed again that I’m finding out about it the day of the relocation,” Mannery said. “It just seems like student input wasn’t valued.”

Arielle Hudson, one of the co-authors of the student resolution that put this entire process in motion, noted that part of the proposal submitted to IHL listed a variety of student groups who had endorsed the plan.

“None of the campus constituency groups have even seen these updated plans so we wanted to make it clear that this was not endorsed at all and that we are not in support of making the cemetery into a glorified shrine of the Confederacy,” Hudson said.